Iran has given an initial response to the UN's nuclear watchdog on a proposal that Tehran would export most of its uranium for enrichment, but Western officials have said privately that they fear the deal has been rejected.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear overseer, said on October 29 that Iran is proposing changes to the plan, agreed to by three powers that have been negotiating with Iran on its nuclear program: France, Russia, and the United States.
The IAEA said Iran has sent what it called an "initial response" to the agency's director-general, Muhammad el-Baradei, who immediately began consultations with Iran and the three allied powers to ensure quick agreement on his plan.
Unnamed U.S. and European diplomats told "The New York Times" that Iran has rejected the deal. According to the "Times" report, a senior European official said Iran's response was “basically a refusal.”
Under the deal proposed by el-Baradei, Iran would send a single shipment of up to 75 percent of its lightly enriched uranium to Russia for further processing. Russia would then send the material to France for conversion into the proper shape for fuel.
The United States, meanwhile, would upgrade safety and instrumentation at the plant, which Washington built during the 1950s to produce isotopes for cancer treatment.
Tehran didn't publicize its response, but the Iranian newspaper "Javan" reported that the government didn't want to ship its uranium to Russia all at once, but in stages.
Western countries fear that the goal of Iran's nuclear program is a nuclear weapon; Iran says it is merely for generating electricity.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA who was in Vienna for consultations at the agency's headquarters, told Reuters that talks on October 29 were strictly technical, and he shed no light on the nature of Tehran's response.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran considers this a technical meeting, merely a technical meeting between Iran and the IAEA," Soltanieh said.
"And we expect that our technical and economic concerns will be taken into consideration when dealing with the modality of the supply of nuclear fuel for the Tehran research reactor."
'Ready For Cooperation'
Meanwhile, in a speech on October 29 in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad referred to the nuclear program, saying Tehran is ready to cooperate with the international community on nuclear energy.
"The world, as well as some people outside and inside this country, should know that as long as this government is in power, it will not retreat one iota on the undeniable rights of the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad said.
The Iranian leader said nothing specific about his government's response to the IAEA plan.
In Paris, the French government expressed confusion concerning Tehran's reply, and asked that it reply "clearly and positively" to the IAEA proposal.
Washington, too, said it was unclear on Iran's intent. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said that the United States was still awaiting a formal response from Iran.
Kelly praised the plan proposed by el-Baradei, calling it "balanced," and said it was a confidence-building step for both Iran and the international community.
Iran, he said, needed to give "further clarification." "We've been given some details of it, but we're still talking to the Iranians about it," he said.
As he and other U.S. government spokesmen have said previously, Kelly didn't deny Iran's right to have peaceful nuclear power.
But he said it was time for Tehran to respond to what he called "the very real and legitimate concerns" of other countries that fear it is trying to develop nuclear weapons.